Articles Tagged with: Pattabhi Jois
Tristhana

When a friend or family-member says, “Hey, you’re into yoga aren’t you; what’s the story with that?”, I bet you say “Yeah, it’s ASHTANGA yoga. It’s not like NORMAL yoga classes”. In other words, you don’t want them to think that you go to this class where it’s you and a load of grandmothers in leotards (especially if he or she is an attractive member of the opposite sex; or same sex if that’s how you roll). But what is Ashtanga Yoga?

The answer is: Tristhana.

Tristhana is what constitutes the Ashtanga Yoga practice but it’s possible you might never have heard the word.

There are three elements to Tristhana (as you might guess from the ‘tri’ part of the word):

Asana

We all know this one. It’s the postures. The most obvious/least subtle part of the practice. Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body.

Breath

We know about this too because we can hear all of our fellow practitioners “breathing with sound”. The sound is very important for two reasons. First, the sound of our own breath draws our attention inwards and makes it easier to achieve pratyahara (the fifth of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga) or withdrawal of the senses. Second, when we can hear straining or unevenness in our breath it acts as a warning sign that we may be pushing too hard and could potentially be about to injure ourselves. The inhale and the exhale should be of equal length and should be as steady as possible.

Breath deeply and slowly, with attention to, and interest in, each breath and you will go deeper into yoga practice.

Correct breathing purifies the nervous system.

The kpjayi.org website says

For cleaning the body internally two factors are necessary, air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for fire to burn, air is necessary, hence the necessity of the breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, evenness is required so that the flame is not smothered out, or blown out of control.

The same method stands for the breath. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire, increasing heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.

An important component of the breathing system is mula and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.
Note that bandhas are considered an extension of the breath, not as a separate technique in themselves. If you can try to mentally connect breath and bandhas you will find strength which you never knew you had.

Dristhi

Dristhi means ‘looking place’ and it is just as important as the asanas and the correct breathing method. To maintain consistent and correct dristhi through the entire practice is a huge challenge, and one which is really interesting to try. You may have heard people (including Suzanne and I) refering to the Ashtanga method as ‘like a moving meditation’. The mediatation part is very unlikely to happen without observance of dristhi.

There are nine dristhis: the tip of the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, tip of the thumb, tip of the middle finger, tip of the big toe, up, right side and left side.

From kpjayi.org:

Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.

I have heard Sharath mention also that the practice of dristhi can greatly aid people suffering from depression.

So these three elements are equally important in the practice. It is easy to neglect dristhi and breath in favour of focusing all of our energy on the asanas but without all three elements in place the practice will have much less benefit.

So maybe, instead of saying that we are doing ‘yoga practice’ or even ‘asana practice’, we should say that we are doing ‘tristhana practice’.

 


Benefits of Primary Series Asanas

This week we’re including (almost word for word) the benefits of each asana of primary series as specified by Pattabhi Jois in his Yoga Mala.

The Surya Namaskara (sun-salutations) are essential in the practice of yoga as they help to gather the strength of the mind in one direction, control the breath and help mental focus.

The first 2 standing poses (thumbs to feet and hands to feet) Padangushtasana and Padahastasana: They dissolve the fat of the lower abdomen and purify the egg shaped nerve plexus in the anal region and rectum as well as purifying the kidneys.

Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle): Dissolves the bad fat around the waist and brings the body into shape. It also expands the narrow portion of the breathing channel and strengthens the spine.

Uthitta Parshvakonasana: Purifies the ribs and lower abdomen, dissolves the bad fat at the waist and softens the limbs so that the subsequent asanas can be practiced more easily.

Prasarita Padottanasana A to D (The 4 wide legged forward bends): These asanas cure constipation, purify the top part of the spinal column and the waist. The anal canal is purified and the bad fat in the lower abdomen is dissolved.

Parshvottanasana (Prayer position behind the back): Like the asana above.

Basically all the above asanas loosen the limbs of the body. For people who suffer from rheumatic or joint pain, the sun salutations and first six asanas are especially important. If they are practiced properly with the correct breathing method, the pain that occurs in the joints will be eliminated and the body will become light and healthy.

Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana (The leg balancing pose that you really realy don’t like): This asana loosens the hip joints, destroys defects of the testicles and male organs of generation, strengthens and purifies the vertebral column, waist, hips and lower abdomen. It also eliminates constipation.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (half bound lotus): This purifies the rectum and liver. It also prevents gas in the stomach and prevents diarrhea.

Utkatasana: Strengthens the waist and makes the body light.

Virabhadrasana (warrior): All the joints of the body, as well as the lower abdomen, spinal column and organ of generation are purified. Pain associated with the knees as well as the pain from standing or sitting all day while working, is eliminated.

Paschimattanasana (the first seated pose): this pose eliminates gas problems in the stomach, it strengthens the organs of the digestive systems.

Purvatanasana: Purifies and strengthens the heart, anus, spinal column and waist.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana (seated, half bound lotus): Alleviates the enlargement of the liver and spleen. Also cures abdominal distention due to bad food and actiities. Constipation is also cured.

Tiriangmukhaaikapada paschimattanasana (right, then left foot back): Cures a number of afflictions including: body fat, water retention, thighs swollen out of proportion to the size of the body (elephant leg!!), piles and sciatica. Also makes the body symmetrical.

Janu Shirshasana: This posture cures cystitis. There’s a lot more in the yoga mala about the benefits of this asana but too much to reproduce here.

Marichyasana A to D: The benefits of all four are different, though all cure diseases in accordance with one’s physical nature. They each cure gaseous movements in the stomach and intestines, as well as the rectum, such as diarrhoea, and restore digestive power. With that, flatulence, indigestion and constipation are eliminated. Abdominal pain during menstruation is removed. The womb becomes powerful and enables a woman to carry a child strongly. The vata pitta kosha (large intestine and gall bladder) are purified, as is the manicure chakra (the third chakra at the navel centre), and the body gains strength and power.

Navasana (boat pose): The anal channel, spinal column, ribs and lower abdomen are purified. The digestive fire is increased and the waist gains strength.

Bhujapidasana: Purifies the oesophagus. The body becomes light, and the shoulders and waist become strong.

Kurmasana: Purifies the nerve plexus in the anal region from which all 72,000 nadis grow. Also purifies the heart and lungs, and eliminates ailments caused by an imbalance of kapha. The chest becomes broad, bad fat is dissolved, and the spinal column becomes strong. Chest pain due to over-tiredness is cured, disorders from bad food remedied and the fat in the lower abdomen is dissolved, allowing the body to become healthy.

Garbha Pindasana: Dissolves fat of the lower abdomen, purifies the manipura (third) chakra, and wards off diseases of the liver and spleen.

Kukkutasana: The intestines are purified, the fat of the lower abdomen is dissolved, and diseases affecting the bowels and urinary tract, as well as excess phlegm, are cured.

Baddha Konasana: Constipation and piles will be destroyed and indigestion will no longer haunt an aspirant. There is a lot more information relating to Baddha Konasana in the Yoga Mala.

Upavishta Konasana: The grdhrasi nadi (sciatic nerve) will be strengthened, gaseous movements in the stomach will no longer occur and peristalsis will be resolved.

Supta Konasana: Same as Baddha Konasana and Upavishta Konasana

Supta Padangushtasana: Purifies and strengthens the waist region, knees, food and anal channels, and the sperm passageway (virya nala). It dissolves bad fat on the sides of the body and the waist, making the waist slender and strong, and the body light.

Ubhaya Padangushtasana: Purifies the anus, waist, stomach, genital organs and the granthi traya (three knots) which begin at the anal canal. It also eliminates the burning sensation that can occur during urination.

Urdhva Mukha Pascimattanasana: Purifies the lower back and oesophagus, and the swadishtana chakra (region between the anus and navel). When the swadishtana chakra is purified, bodily activities become light, all physical activities are free and easy, and impediments such as disease, do not torture one.

Setu Bandhasana: Purifies and strengthens the waist and neck, purifies the muladhara (root) chakra and increases the digestive fire. It also purifies the oesophagus, heart, and lungs, making them strong.

Next time: Finishing asanas.

Pattabhi Jois specifies (in the notes on the benefits of Baddha Konasana):

A point must be made to readers and aspirants that they should be careful to remember. When one follows the methods of asana and pranayama, there is no doubt that all diseases will be cured. But if an aspirant thinks that this will occur by his merely practising asanas while continuing to eat rajasic (stimulating) and tamasic (heavy) foods, then he is misguided. Such a course will actually lead to an increase in sickness.

If you’re interested in reading more about the practice you could pick up a copy of Yoga Mala by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It’s the first book I ever read on Ashtanga yoga.

 

 

 


Saturday is oil-bath day!

Pattabhi Jois always recommended that students of Ashtanga Yoga take an oil-bath on their rest day (usually Saturday). Castor-oil, when applied to the head and body, removes the excess heat from the body. This heat builds up over the week of daily practice and, according to the Ayurvedic tradition, excess heat can cause disease in the body.

The name ‘oil-bath’ can be a little misleading to westerners as it’s not a bath as we would think of it. Rather, the oil is applied to the head and body and later removed in the shower. It is more akin to an Indian-style bucket-bath, but we don’t need to go there in this post.

Kimberley (Kiki) Flynn has written an excellent article on how to do the oil-bath and has even made a couple of videos which I’ve included below, so I won’t go into the details here (she has explained it perfectly already). I should just mention that I have found it impossible to get soap-nut powder and ‘green powder’ in this part of the world, but that pure neem soap works almost as well for removing the oil (almost!).  Please do follow her guidelines on the length of time you leave the oil on for, as this is very important.

If you don’t want to use castor oil then Pattabhi Jois also recommended almond oil, which is a lighter oil and is easier to remove (normal soap is ok for this), but I think the castor-oil, if you can get it, is the best. The process can be a little bit messy but the benefits are really great. Sesame-oil is also recommended by many ayurvedic doctors but that is lighter than almond-oil and is more for daily-use rather than what we are talking about here (removal of excess heat built up over the week). If you do use almond-oil or sesame-oil make sure it’s not the toasted kind.

Castor oil is available at most health food shops as is the neem soap (get the max strength stuff).

Happy oil-bath-day!


Ashtanga Yoga: The no-frills approach

Sometimes I wonder what people think when I tell them that I practise Yoga. I think very few of them would have a clear picture in their heads of exactly what it is that I do while they are all still sleeping.

It is my guess that the predominant mental picture that people have, is that I do a few stretches and maybe some deep breathing, sniffing incense, sitting serenely, buddha-like, on my yoga mat and chanting Oooooooooommmmmmmmmmm.

The truth is that, actually, that is a small part of yoga practice but it paints a much-too-comfortable picture.

Ashtanga Yoga is hard work.

It’s not all lavender-scented eye-pillows and getting-in-touch-with-your-emotions.

It is not for pampering yourself. The purpose of Yoga is not relaxation. Some days I feel extremely relaxed after practice, some days I don’t.

People tell me that they’d like to try Yoga but they prefer things that are more physical, or that make them fit, or that make them sweat. Let me just say, for the record, that I have run, cycled, rowed, lifted weights and done thousands of sit-ups in my time. Nothing I have done has been more physical than Ashtanga Yoga. Nothing I have done has produced a more profuse sweat than Ashtanga Yoga has. And nothing I have done has matched the physical benefits I have received from this practice.

This yoga method is a method of hard work and discipline, which is designed to result in the purification of body and mind, through the practice of physical postures and breath control. Purification of body and breath in this way leads to the purification of the mind. The ultimate goal of yoga is to escape from the constant mental chatter, which is going on in all of our minds.

Ashtanga Yoga differs from new-agey spirituality because it is based on something that is very real (we could even say mundane); the body. There is nothing wishy-washy about this practice. You either do or don’t do (to paraphrase Yoda). It is not escapism. You are forced to face yourself every day and observe your own reactions. In this way you get to know yourself a little more all the time. When it becomes clear what your habitual thought-processes are then you can begin to see through them towards the true Self (note the capital ‘S’). This, ultimately, is called self-realisation or enlightenment.

Ashtanga Yoga has great physical benefits but that is not the ‘point’ of the practice. Pattabhi Jois said, “This yoga is not for exercise. Yoga is showing where to look for the soul – that is all”.

So the reason for the title of this blog is that I see that yoga is being marketed as the ultimate in relaxation and serenity, and yes that can sometimes be a pleasant by-product of the practice. But do not be completely fooled. In the Ashtanga practice we are encouraged to take the ‘no-frills’ approach.

You will not be told to ‘feel like you are floating like a cloud’ or to ‘feel like their is a rainbow coming out of your chest’ in a traditional Ashtanga class. But what you will receive is an extremely powerful method, which it is then up to you to practice. As Sharath is so fond of saying; “Anyone can practise”. Eddie Stern adds, “Not everyone wants to practise”.

I can only encourage you to get onto your mat every day and see what happens. If you feel like there’s a rainbow coming out of our chest then let me know. I know a good doctor!

John

No frills in Guruji’s old shala in Mysore


What does ‘Ashtanga’ mean

The word Ashtanga in the Sanskrit language means eight limbs (astau means eight and anga means limb).

These eight limbs are

  • Yama
  • Niyama
  • Asana
  • Pranayama
  • Pratyahara
  • Dharana
  • Dhyana
  • Samadhi

Ok, I know, they’re in Sanskrit too so that’s no help. Well, I’ll try to explain what each of these words mean without getting too technical.

Yama

There are five yama (or yamas, if we follow the incorrect custom of pluralising them using the English language ‘s’).

  • Ahimsa
  • Satya
  • Asteya
  • Brahmacharya
  • Aparigraha

Yes, Sanskrit again!

Translated into English they mean,

  • Non-violence
  • Truthfulness
  • Not stealing
  • Temperance
  • Not coveting

I won’t go into any further explanations of yama here but as you can see they form a basic guide to living harmoniously with the world outside our-selves.

Niyama

 Niyama is also five-fold

  • Saucha
  • Santosha
  • Tapas
  • Swadhyaya
  • Ishwarapranidhana

 That is,

  • Cleanliness/Purity
  • Contentment
  • Self-discipline
  • Study (self study and study of yogic texts)
  • Devotion to a power greater than our-selves

Again, a detailed commentary is not what I’m going for here, so it will suffice to point out that niyama form a basic guide to living harmoniously within our-selves

Asana

Asana is what most people think of when they think of Yoga. Asana  is the physical practice of yoga postures. Guruji (Pattabhi Jois) recommended that we start our yoga practice with this, the third limb, because the first two limbs are very difficult. If we try to take even one of the yama or niyama and practise it in its purest form we will see how right he was. Mahatma Gandhi is an shining example of somebody who practised absolute non-violence (ahimsa) and he changed the course of history.

It is more realistic and practical for most of us to start with asana.

First we must make our bodies healthy. Otherwise, how can we think of purifying our minds and gaining enlightenment? If illness is in the body we are pre-occupied with that and there is no space for spiritual practice. When asana becomes firmly grounded then yama and niyama happen automatically.

Pranayama

The practice of breath control taught in many yoga traditions is pranayama. In his Yoga Sutras (the cornerstone of yoga practice and philosophy) Patanjali states

Tasmin sati svasa prasvasayor gati vicchedah pranayamah

 That being acquired, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. This is pranayama.

(Sutra II:49)

The word ‘that’ refers to steadiness in the practice of asana.  So we should take it that pranayama is not to be practised until we have firmly established our asana practice. Guruji did not teach pranayama until the student had completed the second series of the ashtanga vinyasa method.

With reference to pranayama Patanjali also states

Tatah ksiyate prakasavaranam

As its result, the veil over the inner Light is destroyed

(Sutra II:52)

Dharanasu ca yogyata manasah

And the mind becomes fit for concentration

(Sutra II:53)

Pratyahara

 Pratyahara is the bridge between the previous four, external, limbs and the following three, internal, limbs. It can be translated as the withdrawal of the senses. In other words our senses turn inwards and our minds are no longer distracted by the outside world. All of our focus is internal.

Tatah parama vasyatendriyanam

Then follows complete mastery over the senses

(Sutra II:55)

Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

The last three limbs are inseparable and follow on from each other. Dharana is usually translated as ‘concentration’ and technically it is the state of consciousness in which the mind is aware of only one object or idea. Dhyana is translated as ‘meditation’ and it is the state of consciousness in which concentration (dharana) is continuous. Samadhi is the state of consciousness in which the mind and the object of meditation are as one. The student in the state of samadhi ‘forgets themselves’. This is sometimes translated as ‘bliss’ and is the highest form of Yoga practice.

Above is a very brief explanation of the eight limbs. There are thousands of books written on the subject of Yoga from both a philosophical and a practical point of view and it is a vast subject. However, theoretical knowledge is useless unless we have practical knowledge. Guruji was famous for saying that yoga is “99% practice and 1% theory”. We can practise asana and, following that, pranayama. According to Guruji, if we do this, then “all is coming”. He was telling us that all of the other limbs will spontaneously happen (provided we are conscious of yama and niyama) and we will experience that state of yoga called samadhi.

John

 To hear Guruji speak a little about this you can watch this video